Published in

SEO Basics: Using Keywords on Websites

One of the most important factors for where a website ranks in search results has to do with the keywords used on the site. In an earlier post, How Search Engines Index Websites, we looked at the basics of how search engines use algorithms to rank websites based upon hundreds of factors. Now, let us take a look at using keywords on a website for better search placement.

What are Keywords?

If you are confused by the term “keyword,” you are not alone. A keyword is a word or short phrase that objectively states the concise meaning of a website, a web page, or an article. You can think of keywords as the subject matter for each section of the site. Like an outline for a story, keywords change according to the subject matter being described in each section.

In our example, we will use a fictional website for a dog obedience school. Here is a small sample of keywords we could potentially use on the site:

Keyword Tree

The site is about dogs and each page describes a different aspect of dog training and care. Let us break out each of these areas and see how we can use keywords within each section.

Domain Name

Web sites can tell search engines a lot about themselves by their domain name. By choosing a URL like, our example website will tell search engines that the site is about dog obedience. The inclusion of the location in the URL (ie. Portland) will improve local search if needed for the site.

Website Title

Website title

The website title appears in the top of the browser window and commonly contains two or three descriptive keywords about the site, separated by a vertical bar. The website title will often begin with the name of the business, followed by a few word description about what the business does. If necessary, you can include the geographic location for local search at the end of the description. It pays to be concise with the website title, as search engines will only display between 60 to 70 characters in search results. For our website example, a good title would be “Bob’s Dog Obedience School | Canine Training & Care in Portland, OR”. By restating keywords from the URL, we increase search relevance for those terms.

Alternate Keywords

In the description, try using alternate terminology to expand the keywords used on the site. In turn, this will expand the reach of the website for those related terms. In our example, we used the term “dog” in the name of the business. We would then recommend using the alternate term “canine” in the description.

Page Titles

Each page on the website should have a title enclosed inside an <H1> tag in the code. The <H1> tag stands for “heading level 1” and tells search engines about the content found on the page.

Headings and Subheadings

Within each page, the headings should be enclosed inside an <H2> tag. This “heading level 2” tag is categorized under the <H1> tag and begins to build an outline for the content. Similarly, subheadings should be enclosed inside an <H3> to <H6> tag depending upon how deep the content is nested. Headings and subheadings should use descriptive keywords that accurately describe each area of the content. Are you noticing a pattern yet?

The Body Content

The body content found throughout the site is an amazing place for using keywords and alternate terminology. Yes, this stuff your reading right now can be leveraged to improve the keyword density for the website.


Lastly, pictures used in-line with the page content should include the alt and title attributes in the code. These attributes are used for a short description of the image which is used by screen readers for the visually impaired. Search engines like these descriptions too which make them another great place to include keywords.

The Long Tail

The Long Tail of SEO

Search engine data shows that certain keywords are searched for more often than others. The number of searches for keywords on the left of the tail are much greater than those to the right. This makes it harder for a website to appear in search results for only a single keyword. Therefore, by including descriptive keywords found towards the right, you will increase the likelihood of the website appearing higher in related searches.

Choosing Keywords

When choosing keywords, be sure to choose words or phrases that clearly identify the subject matter for the web page. If you choose words that are unrelated or too abstract, search engines will inappropriately index the website.

Keyword Resources

If you are interested in looking up keywords for your site, why not go to the source. Search engines collect their search results and allow you to find out what keywords people have been searching for. Head on over to Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner and Bing’s Keyword Research Tool, to try them out.

Follow our blog via RSS or Email.

Privacy Policy We do not sell or share your information.

Ted is a graphic designer and front-end developer who specializes in branding, marketing, and website development.